Police in Bangladesh Sunday fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Islamist activists trying to enforce a nationwide strike over the removal of a Muslim phrase in the constitution, and witnesses said around 50 people were injured. The clashes erupted when thousands of bludgeon-carrying Islamists cut off a stretch of highway leading to the capital’s eastern suburbs with barricades. The protesters also damaged several cargo trucks before the police crackdown, and some 100 people were detained.
The strike, which began two days after the country emerged from a 48-hour stoppage enforced by the opposition, was called to protest a recent amendment to the constitution which dropped the words “absolute faith and trust in Allah.” The Islamists also want to scrap “secularism” as a state principle in the Muslim-majority country.
The strike, which was called for by 12 Islamist parties, was however, largely ignored by most people in Bangladesh, where businesses and transportation was operating as normal.
The strike was spearheaded by the Bangladesh Islami Andolon, one of a handful of small Islamist parties that have no representation in parliament but who back the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who is trying to force early elections. The BNP lost to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League in the 2008 parliament polls and has since been trying to rally support of the Islamist and other groups. The two women have dominated the south Asian country’s often volatile politics for two decades and are likely to face off again in the next election due by end of 2013.